BRATTLEBORO -- A bear sighting near Brattleboro Union High School Tuesday morning caused some concern for school officials, who responded by making sure students stayed in the buildings until after noon.
"This morning about 8 a.m. we got a report from a staff member who was going to unlock a gate at the rear of Windham Career Center," said BUHS Principal Steve Perrin. "He saw a bear run across the Outlet Center parking lot and into the woods."
Perrin notified the school's resource office and called state game wardens. At the same time, he stationed school staff members in the student parking lot to keep an eye on the area.
"At one point, a staff member saw the bear ambling down Atwood Street and it went into Wilson's Woods," said Perrin, who then notified Oak Grove School.
"They kept kids inside for recess," he said.
After the first lunch period was over, high school students were allowed access to their cars, said Perrin, but they were urged not to linger in the parking lot.
"The students were phenomenal," he said, and didn't complain at all. "We did it more for the bear than the kids. I don't think the bear posed a serious risk. We're just trying to stay out of the bear's way."
In a press release, State Wildlife Biologist Forrest Hammond stated the Agency of Natural Resources has been receiving reports from all across the state of bears seeking food at bird feeders, bee hives, chicken coops and other
"People can help by removing any food sources that may tempt the bears," stated Hammond. "We also recommend using electrical fencing to protect bee hives and chickens from hungry bears and using noise-making devices to scare off bears that come near houses."
Vermont Game Warden Rich Watkin told the Reformer that he and another game warden responded to the sighting because of its proximity to the high school.
He was receiving updates from the Vermont State Police dispatch about the bear's location until they were able to track it down in a backyard on Wilson's Woods Road. There, it was feasting on seeds in a bird feeder it had pulled down to the ground.
Watkin got within five yards of the bear and chased it off by yelling and charging at it.
"We are pretty limited on what we can do in these situations," said Watkin. "I just wanted to make him uncomfortable and make him realize he's not welcome."
At the same time, Watkin said he had to be careful to not chase the bear toward the school.
"I pushed him a couple of hundred yards into the woods."
After that, he and the other game warden took up watch in the parking lot, but the bear didn't return.
"Where he went, we're not sure."
Watkin said the bear is a youngster, weighing about 120 pounds, and most likely is looking for territory to call its own.
While bears will eat most anything, he said, they are especially attracted to bird feeders because seeds have a high-calorie reward.
"You can't blame them for wanting to come in and go after high-calorie foods," said Watkin. "Year after year we send out the same message: Pull your bird feeders. If we don't have the food sources, we won't have bears coming in."
He said bear sightings are normal for this time of the year, and this year has not seen any increases.
"They are waiting for the berries to come in but are actively searching for food."
Occasionally a game warden will have to fire a rubber bullet at a bear's hind quarters to scare it off, said Watkin, and they try to avoid at all costs having to kill a nuisance bear.
"We just need to make sure they know they're not welcome in the area," he said.
Watkin said there's a good chance this bear will return to the neighborhood but residents could keep it from coming back by removing food sources.
"There's no reason for it to return if there's no food. Their stomachs drive their behavior."
Watkin said people should not confront a bear. He advised if you find a bear in your backyard feasting on a food source, leave it be and when it departs, clean up the food source.
"They're better left alone."
On July 1, a new state law goes into effect, which is intended to help reduce the problems that occur when bears are attracted to foods provided by people. The law prohibits feeding bears and requires that, under most circumstances, anyone attempting to kill a nuisance bear must first attempt reasonable non-lethal measures to protect their own property.
It also repeals a requirement that the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department reimburse a claimant who is not a farmer for damage by bears to livestock or bees. Farmers will still be reimbursed as long as his or her land is not posted against hunting.
Hammond stated bears can gradually lose their fear of people and begin going from house to house looking for more food.
"It doesn't take long in these situations before a bear gets so comfortable around people that it causes property damage or begins to be seen as a potential threat to people in surprise encounters," he stated. "When the department has to choose between the safety of people and the safety of bears, bears will always lose."
To learn more, check out the "Living with Black Bears" at www.vtfishandwildlife.com.